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Stories

Back to Nature

Growing up in coastal Maine, I spent a lot of time outdoors. Warm Maine summers meant swimming at the local pond, barefoot walks to the ice cream shop, and playing Ghost in the Graveyard on hot, sticky nights. My friends and I would compare the calluses on our feet. Whoever had the toughest summer feet was considered, for lack of a better word, “cool.”

Things have changed in the last twenty years. Research suggests that children aren’t spending as much time outside, and they spend hours in front of screens of all types. We hear phrases like “nature deficit disorder” on the news, to describe the effect that this lack of outdoor play has on children. Kids need time outside. They need to be in nature not just to appreciate the world around them, but for their physical and emotional development. 

Nature Day Camp campers appreciating what the coast of Maine has to offer
Children at Nature Day Camp learn what’s in store for the day

Nature Day Camp, a program of the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT), offers structured outdoor playtime for kids. The camp’s objective is to combat “nature deficit disorder.” The goal of the camp is to get children away from the screens and into the woods, beaches, and fields that comprise the Maine coast.

“Sometimes families need a nudge in the direction of more time outdoors and exploring nature. Nature Day Camp, and the Land Trust’s other programs, provide that nudge. We hope to inspire kids to love their town, see that self-directed learning is fun, and care about the world they live in.” Says Julia McLeod of HHLT.

At Nature Day Camp on Orr’s Island in June, I watched a group of twelve children wade through mudflats, looking for clams and other sea creatures. Kids were losing boots and falling into ankle deep water. The children were able to run and explore their coastal habitat, while learning about the animals that live in the intertidal zone. 

Lucy, age three, demonstrated to the other children how to coax a periwinkle out of its shell. She held the periwinkle up to her mouth and hummed lightly, “They come out because I have great tone.” I didn’t see the snail emerge, but Lucy managed to convince the other children. In no time, kids were picking up periwinkles from the rocks, humming into their shells, waiting to see what lived inside. 

Caleb and Lucy explore the sea creatures in the mudflats

Written and photographed by Galen Koch, 2014.